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QUINN v. NASSAU COUNTY POLICE DEPT.
June 28, 1999
JAMES M. QUINN, PLAINTIFF,
NASSAU COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT; DONALD KANE; PHILLIP RICE; JOSEPH H. ALLEN; EDWARD GONZALEZ; DANIEL LISHANSKY; AND JOHN RYAN, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
The plaintiff, a homosexual man and a former Nassau County
police officer, claims that his fellow police officers and
supervisors embarked on a vicious campaign of harassment against
him because of his sexual orientation, in violation of
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1985. During a three-week jury trial, the
plaintiff testified that approximately a year after he joined the
police force in 1986, other officers learned he was gay and over
a nine-year period, tormented him with pornographic cartoons and
photographs, anti-gay remarks, and barbaric "pranks." The
plaintiff further testified that his supervisors at the police
department knew of the harassment but did nothing to stop it, and
that some supervisors even joined in the harassment. The jury
awarded him the total sum of $380,000 in compensatory and
This opinion embodies the Court's oral decision, which it
rendered off-the-bench with respect to the following: (1) all of
the defendants' pre-verdict motions for judgment as a matter of
law as to liability under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
("Fed.R.Civ.P.") 50; (2) the defendant Ryan's post-verdict motion
for judgment as a matter of law as to liability; and (3) all of
the defendants' post-verdict motions to reduce the $250,000
emotional distress component of the jury award on the ground that
it is excessive.
While this opinion addresses several issues, the central
question confronting the Court is whether government employees
who are homosexual may be singled out for discrimination and
abuse in the workplace because of their sexual orientation. In
the Court's view, the United States Constitution and the
provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, combined with logic, common sense
and fairness dictate the answer: individuals have a
constitutional right under the Equal Protection Clause to be free
from sexual orientation discrimination causing a hostile work
environment in public employment.
In setting forth the salient facts of this case, the Court
views the evidence in a light most favorable to the plaintiff,
and grants him every reasonable inference that the jury might
have drawn in his favor (see
Hannex Corp. v. GMI, Inc., 140 F.3d 194, 203 [2d Cir. 1998]
[quotation omitted]), as is required when deciding the
defendants' Rule 50 motions for judgment as a matter of law
dismissing the complaint.
The plaintiff, James M. Quinn ("Quinn" or the "plaintiff"), a
former Nassau County Police Officer, initiated this action under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1985 against the Nassau County Police
Department (the "Police Department"), Nassau County Police
Commissioner Donald Kane ("Kane" or the "Commissioner"), his
former supervisors Lieutenant Edward Gonzalez ("Gonzalez"),
Deputy Chief Daniel Lishansky ("Lishansky"), Sergeant John Ryan
("Ryan"), Lieutenant Joseph Allen ("Allen"), and his former
co-worker, Police Officer Phillip Rice ("Rice").
Quinn began working as a police officer for the Nassau County
Police Department in 1986. Quinn testified that he learned to
keep his sexual orientation to himself during his first days of
training at the Police Academy, after his supervisors "snickered"
when discussing homosexuals during a "sensitivity training"
workshop. From then on, Quinn vowed to keep his sexual
orientation hidden from his colleagues.
However, his secret was revealed on July 4, 1987, when police
officers from the First Precinct, where Quinn was assigned,
arrested an assistant district attorney for engaging in
homosexual sex in public. The assistant district attorney told
the arresting officers that Quinn, too, was gay. Following this
revelation, and until he left the force in 1996, Quinn testified
that he was ridiculed, humiliated, abused and singled-out because
of his sexual orientation.
For example, fellow officers regularly and frequently posted
cartoons about Quinn from the time he was unwillingly "outed"
through January 1995, when he was transferred to another
precinct. At least 19 of these cartoons were put into evidence at
the trial. In the cartoons, Quinn is depicted and labeled a
homosexual, a child-molester, a transvestite and a sadomasochist.
On repeated occasions, Quinn found such cartoons slipped into the
pages of the Police Car Book, a book which the officers
maintained in the patrol cars for the purpose of leaving official
messages and advice for their colleagues.
These cartoons were posted prominently on the bulletin board
located in the "32 Room," which many witnesses described as the
central hub of the First Precinct. At trial, defendant Rice
admitted that he created many of these cartoons. In Rice's
opinion, the cartoons were just "silly stuff" he created to try
and relieve the "stress and tension" of being a police officer.
Rice attempted to defend himself by explaining that he treated
everyone unfairly, and that "everyone" was made "fun of" on the
32 Room bulletin board.
In addition to the cartoons, Quinn testified about other
anti-gay incidents at the First Precinct. Fellow officers hid his
uniform and equipment. His colleagues put rocks in the hub caps
of his police car so that criminals would hear his noisy
approach. On one occasion, Quinn found a night stick in his
patrol car with the words "P.O. Quinn's dildo" carved into the
Quinn testified that his supervising officers were aware of
this harassment, ignored it, and refused to take any action to
discourage future occurrences. Rice supported Quinn's testimony
in this respect, and told the jury that no supervisor ever asked
him to stop making the cartoons about Quinn or to remove these
items from the 32 Room bulletin board, even though supervisors
"probably" saw them and laughed at them. Rice agreed that his
cartoons about Quinn were an accepted practice at the precinct.
Then Lieutenant, now Captain Allen acknowledged seeing the
posted cartoons depicting Quinn as gay, although he did not
recall seeing the specific cartoons introduced into evidence at
trial. Significantly, however, when he was shown some of the
cartoons at trial, Allen stated that he did not view them as
offensive, and that he would not have felt obligated to remove
them from the 32 Room bulletin board had he seen them posted
Quinn also told the jury that he was treated differently from
his fellow officers with regard to the manner in which his
superiors "over-supervised" him. Specifically, Quinn alleged that
supervisors such as Ryan and Allen would unfairly criticize him,
nit-pick his work, and direct him to rewrite his paperwork
without any valid reason. Sergeant Ryan also would "ride" many of
Quinn's calls, meaning that he would personally follow and
observe Quinn responding to calls and performing his official
duties. Lishansky testified that this was uncommon. According to
Ryan and Allen, they treated Quinn in this manner because of his
work performance and repeated lateness.
There was evidence of actual knowledge of this systematic
harassment by Quinn's supervisors. On several occasions, Quinn
complained to Precinct Commander Lishansky about Ryan and Allen
"over-supervising" him. In response, Lishansky asked the
supervisors to "cut him some slack," and at one point changed
Quinn's squad so that he would only periodically have to work
with Allen. In addition, Quinn wrote a letter to Police
Commissioner Kane complaining of "unfair treatment and
harassment." The Commissioner concededly took no action with
regard to the plaintiff's complaint.
Quinn told the jury that the harassment accelerated when, on or
about January 20, 1995, he became the target of a baseless
investigation by the Internal Affairs Unit of the Nassau County
Police Department, resulting in his involuntary transfer to the
Fourth Precinct, the furthest precinct from his home. During this
investigation, Quinn's car was followed by shifts of unmarked
police cars. Notwithstanding this intensive investigation, to
this date, no formal charges ever were filed against Quinn.
According to Quinn, soon after his transfer, members of the
First Precinct spread the word to the Fourth Precinct officers
that they should "watch out for Quinn." Quinn alleges that his
mistreatment continued at the Fourth Precinct.
On about May 29, 1995, Quinn was involuntarily transferred on a
"temporary" basis — and eventually on a permanent basis — from
the Fourth Precinct to the less proactive Court Liaison Office.
The plaintiff eventually left the police force in December 1996,
due to a line-of-duty back injury. When the plaintiff ended his
employment, the Police Department refused to grant him
termination pay, which is provided to officers upon completion of
employment. He was not given his termination pay because of the
pending "charges" against him. As stated above, these "charges"
are still pending, and may never be resolved.
Based on this factual scenario, substantially conceded by the
defendants, Quinn raised the following causes of action: (1)
Section 1983/Equal Protection; (2) Section 1983/First Amendment;
and (3) Section 1985/Conspiracy. The Court dismissed the Section
1983 First Amendment claim and submitted the Section 1983 Equal
Protection claim and the 1985 Conspiracy claim to the jury. The
jury returned a
special verdict, with the following express findings:
The plaintiff proved that, after June 6, 1994 (within
the statute of limitations period): (1) the members
and supervisors of the Nassau County Police
Department committed discriminatory acts
demonstrating an ongoing policy or practice of sexual
orientation discrimination against the plaintiff; and
(2) the members and supervisors of the Nassau County
Police Department committed specific and related
instances of sexual orientation discrimination
against the plaintiff, condoned by the supervisors of
the Nassau County Police Department. The plaintiff
proved that in the Nassau County Police Department
during the period in question, there was a custom,
policy or decision to permit sexual orientation
The plaintiff proved that he was subjected to severe
or pervasive unwelcome harassment by members and/or
supervisors of the Nassau County Police Department,
that the harassment complained of was based on his
sexual orientation, and that the claimed harassment
had the effect of unreasonably interfering with his
work performance and created an intimidating, hostile
or offensive work environment for him.
The plaintiff did not prove that Police Commissioner
Donald Kane and Daniel Lishansky knew of the sexual
orientation harassment of the plaintiff but did
nothing to stop it.
The plaintiff did not prove that the defendant
Lieutenant Joseph Allen participated in the sexual
orientation harassment of the plaintiff, but did
prove that Allen knew of the sexual orientation
harassment of the plaintiff and did nothing to stop
The plaintiff did not prove that defendant Edward
Gonzalez, a Lieutenant in the Fourth Precinct,
participated in the sexual orientation harassment of
The plaintiff proved that defendant Sergeant John
Ryan participated in the sexual orientation
harassment of the plaintiff, and that he knew of the
sexual orientation harassment of the plaintiff but
did nothing to stop it.
The plaintiff proved that two or more of the
individual defendants in this case were involved in a
conspiracy with a purpose to harass the plaintiff
because of his sexual orientation; that the action of
the defendants in the conspiracy were motivated, in
whole or in part, by a disliking or hateful
discriminatory attitude toward homosexuals; and that
Rice, Allen and Ryan were knowing members of the
The jury awarded Quinn the following: (1) $250,000
for emotional distress; $60,000 for loss of
termination pay; (2) $30,000 in punitive damages
against defendant Rice; (3) $20,000 in punitive
damages against defendant Allen; ...